Shanqin Bay, Your Resort in Choice

Set against the deep expanse of the South China Sea is a golf course that heralds an awakened sophistication in course design.

By Brett Brasier

 

The land around Boao in Hainan Island may have been washed up by the 2008 tsunami but in its wake, the economic resiliency of Chinas largest Special Economic Zone persisted to turn it into a major golf and tourism hub in the southeast now with more than 30 courses and many others on the way, peppered about the island. While the popular resort area of Sanya is continuing the flourish and the capital, Haikou, sees numerous projects lining up, one particular gem to emerge some three years from the disaster is Shanqin Bay, along the islands northeastern coast facing the South China Sea.

Like Noahs Ark emerging into a new world, Shanqin Bay provides a renewed lease of life to the erstwhile rural precinct of Boao. With one of the worlds most technical team comprising of Bill Coore and two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw at the helm of its design, it is the exclusive highlight of golf at its best made in China. Coore was quoted after completing the project, We have been given more than our share of special sites and I believe Shanqin Bay has the potential to become one of the worlds exceptional golf courses. It is stunningly beautiful.

Located half way down Hainan Island, Chinas main tourist destination and just two hours away from Haikou or half that from Sanya, it is easy to reach by car or high-speed train. The spectacular architecture and views blend together in a perfect cocktail of elegance and God-given natural beauty of this unique Chinese links with sweeping panorama of canyons, beach, sand dunes and the ocean.

The seashore paspalum (Sealsle Supreme) fairways wind through and over ancient sand dunes, shrubs and fortified that have been overgrown with grasses representing a piece of the history of the land. Add to that changes in elevation and the occasional blind shot over hummocks tufted with long grasses and scrubs or out of depressions that offer shelter from the ocean blow and greens created with the same, superior turf makes for a consistent surface to play and putt from however, wind and breeze from the ocean will dictate play for the day. Combined, Shanqin Bay is a course to be savoured and eagerly anticipated.

There are no signature holes here as each of the eighteen could put their hand up and offer a legitimate argument as to why they should be awarded as such. For a start, the angled 1st green offers one of the most challenging short shots youll face if the green is missed. The same could be said of the 9th where you can go left but to then achieve an up-and-down, it will require a perfect chip or pitch. The sensational rollercoaster par 5 second hole will tempt you to go for it in two but will be unforgiving if you miscue.

The 5th will give you the feeling of a blind shot at its best up and over the crest of a sand dune to a green only accessible with a perfectly judged swing. The lovely par 3 8th is a pure delight on the eyes and was hardly touched in its construction with its crafted bunkers and undulating green set against the backdrop of the ocean, reminiscent of a delectable perfectly flowing scotch that one should drink after finishing the putt. The visually beautiful par 4 17th is one of three uniquely short par 4 closing holes and possesses a very difficult narrow green to hit.

The course does not have many straightforward holes but instead offers challenges with a wonderful variety of bends, dog-legs and angles that reward the golfer who can shape a tee shot with accuracy. Depending on the sea breeze, a number of holes are best played with a fairway wood from the tee to guarantee approaches that are fathomably doable. And when you dont get it on in two, bump it up the greens if you have the skill, unless, of course, they are guarded by bunkers that can be large and deep but above all is the joy of hole after different hole, each offering its own particular obstacles and openings to success or sadness. Said Coore, We devoted special attention to the contouring of the greens, their surrounding areas and to the approach surfaces leading to the greens.

As you may guess, bold bunkering is visually spectacular here with the sand excavated from a nearby dune ridge. The rough areas around the tees and bunkers consist of a mix of native grasses, naturally framing each hole and providing stark definition and contrast without distracting from the strategy. To further confound matters, on a given day where the superintendent is cheeky, pin placement on tiered greens present pronounced breaks insuring that even on a calm, windless day, you will required your full concentration to hole putts or even get close. Large and beautifully contoured, the greens are built to accommodate approaches from a number of angles with each progressively more difficult the further the tee shot strays from the perfect line.

Despite turning considerable turf in the process, great care has been taken in preserving the original lay of the land. There are also no two consecutive holes of that looks or feels the same but one thing stands out consistently though. From the tee, the experienced player can challenge bunkers on the corner of many of the holes, therefore leaving a shorter approach to several green sites. If you dont wish to be risky or lack the confidence to take on a dogleg, then a well-positioned lay-up will be the safer option however, herein lie the genius of the course architects; The average golfer has a way to eventually reach the green, and yet the competent player can be seriously challenged in trying to score well.

Coore recommends studying the ground contours leading to the greens. Often, these landforms can be utilized by the thoughtful player to reach the greens from distances that would be unreasonable if the shots had to carry all the way to the green, he says, and further adds, These contours can be of significant benefit to the short yet skillful golfer to help offset a stronger players inherent advantage.

Shanqin Bay is a classic example of a links creation with extensive use of natural hazards. The premium is on accuracy rather than length. While accounting for the prevailing westerly ocean breezes that will be your enemy or friend, switching as it so pleases, you are asked as a golfer to dig deep into past experiences of playing against Mother Nature. This classic combination is what every golfer is looking for and the extensive detailed bunkering and exquisitely carved fairways with strategically designed landing areas presents a challenge that you will not soon forget.

It is no secret that Shanqin Bay has gone straight to the upper tier of premier courses in Asia. This Scottish-flavoured course has opened quietly without the fanfare typically of openings here. Membership is reported to be over US$1 million with only members and guests allowed in so if you want the opportunity to do so, it may do well to make some friends before coming here.

Inside the clubhouse, a bar and restaurant, both perched high atop the site of an ancient Chinese fortress, must surely make this one of the worlds finest. Add to that the shadow service awaiting those who have the privilege of coming here whereby members and guests will always be accompanied by a manager from the airport through to the 18th hole and after and you get an experience that is seldom found anywhere else in the country.

Set close to Wanning City, some are already saying that Shanqin Bay is arguably Asias answer to Augusta National. The Georgia original is largely known to most golfers, yet those closely associated with this new Chinese pearl will want to keep this gorgeous creation a secret.